Difference between pillowcases and pillow shams

Pillowcases vs. Pillow Sham

Updated 9/2020

At times people use the terms pillowcases and pillow sham interchangeably. 

Technically (if this is technical?), there is a little difference. In the between them.

For the most part, pillowcases are intended to sleep on, pillow shams are more decorative. Some can be slept on, others are only decorative accents to the bed. 

Pillowcases are: 

Luxury Pillows cases

  • Open at one end.
  • Usually contain a flange at the opening for some decorative finish. Inexpensive pillowcases may just have a folded sewn hem at the opening.
  • Pillow Shams generally have the following criteria:
  • The opening often has a tuck (flap) found on the back of the sham.
  • Most often, all four edges are finished with flange or cording.
  • Pillow shams typically are a little more decorative.
  • Shams made from sheeting type fabrics can be slept on with no issue. 

Sizes of Pillowcases and Pillow Shams: 

Luxury pillow shams

Both pillowcases and pillow shams are found in common bedding sizes.
Pillowcases are available in the following sizes:

  • Standard (20" x 26")
  • Queen (20" x 30")
  • King (20" x 36")
  • Queen size pillowcases as with queen size shams are somewhat of an aberration. That is, most linen manufacturers do not make a queen-size case or sham.

This is often confusing to people as they assume that their queen-size bed should be outfitted with queen pillowcases.

  • Two standard pillows work perfectly on a queen bed.
  • Because some do not like to sleep with a king-size pillow (they are quite long, and people find them difficult to maneuver while sleeping) three standard, pillowcases will fill the entire width of a king-size bed.
  • At Vero Linens, our standard pillowcases have been uniquely designed, so in the rare cases that someone does have queen size sleeping pillow, they will fit both a standard or queen size. 

Pillow shams are available in a wider array of sizes, which includes the following: 

  • Standard (20" x 26")
  • Queen (20" x 30")
  • King (20" x 36")
  • Euro (26" x 26")
  • Boudoir (12" x 16")

Pillow Tips
To fit a single layer of sleeping pillows across a King-size bed, use (3) standard pillowcases or (2) king pillowcases. When filling out the width across a queen-sized bed, go with (2) standard Pillowcases. 

You may also enjoy the following articles:Luxury bedding

King vs. California King bedding explained...
Sateen Bed Linens vs. Satin bed sheets
Caring for Luxury Linens and Bedding
Buying Bed Sheets, how often should you wash them?

You may also enjoy the following articles.

Pillow Sham & Pillow Cases FAQ 

What are pillow shams?

Pillow shams are a pillow that is decorative in nature and generally used on a bed.

  • Some pillow shams can be slept on, depending on the fabric used on the sham itself.
  • Pillow shams can be finished in various ways.
    • The three most popular ways are a knife edge, a flanged edge or a corded edge.
    • Some shams have a zipper closure found at the bottom of the pillow, some have a flap closure found at the bottom of the sham, some open from the back with a tie closure.
  • The most common sizes of pillow shams are Standard sham (20” x 26”) King sham (20” x 36”), Euro sham (26” x 26”) and boudoir sham (12” x 16”).
  • To understand the difference between a pillowcase and a sham, view our article/video found here.

What is a bed sham?

A bed shams are a decorative pillow that are used on a bed.

  • Bed shams can be virtually any size but the most common sizes are:
    • Standard sham (20” x 26”) 
    • King sham (20” x 36”)
    • Euro sham (26” x 26”)
    • Boudoir sham (12” x 16”)
  • Occasional some use bed shams to decorate a sofa or chair.
  • Pillow shams are different than pillowcases, learn the difference between them here.
  • Some Standard and King shams are intended to be slept on.
  • Learn more about the differences between pillowcases and shams here.

What is a standard sham size?

  • A standard sham is 20” x 26”.
  • Standard shams are typically found on a twin, full and queen size bed.
  • Learn more about the various and most common sizes of pillowcases and pillow shams here.

Can one sleep on pillow shams?

  • Yes, if they are made from washable sheet type fabric.
    • If they have a cording on them, most likely not.
  • Some shams are made from decorative or upholstery grade fabric.
    • Sleeping on shams made from these types of fabrics will most likely not be comfortable. 
  • Learn more about the differences between pillowcases and shams here.

What size shams should you use on a queen or king bed?

  • Use 2 standard shams on a queen or full-size bed.
    • Use 2 king shams on a king or Cal-king size bed.
    • With Euro shams, one can use 2 or 3 on a queen- or full-size bed and 3 or 4 on a king-size bed.
    • With regard to the use of a boudoir or other size decorative shams, it is a personal preference.
  • Read our article on what size pillow shams to use on a queen bed here.
  • Read more on the most popular sizes of pillowcases and shams here.

What is the best filling material for decorative shams?

  • We think the best filling is feather. As it is inexpensive and never bunches up.
    • To understand the difference between feather and down, video our article/video found here.
  • Some have allergy issues with feather; as a result, poly-filled pillows will work, but they have a tendency to get lumpy over time and may not fill the corners out well.
  • See our article on how to get the flanges of your pillow shams to stand up here.

Can one use standard sleeping pillows on a king bed?

  • Yes, we have found that many people do not care to sleep with king pillows as they are too difficult to maneuver or move around when sleeping .
  • 3 Standard size sleeping pillows fit perfectly across a king bed.
  • See our article on the common size of sleeping pillows here.
  • Queen-size pillowcases or pillow shams are sold in the market but are not very popular.
    • Some linen manufacturers do not make queen pillowcases or pillow shams.